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Thinking for Yourself
SEATTLE - 29 April 2002 - by M.A. Nystrom
I recall one of the first times I began to see the investment world through my own eyes. I was about 27 years old, working as a stockbroker in a small branch office of a national brokerage house in Seattle. Market open on the west coast is 6:30am, and often times, some of us in the office would get breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s, which was just around the corner from the office. At that time, in the mid 1990’s, McDonald’s the Stock was a rising blue chip: Respected as a well managed company, with tremendous international growth prospects. It was no-brainer, impossible-to-lose investment. A member of the Dow, it was a consistent pick as a buy and hold investment by respected publications such as Barron’s, as well as respected (at the time) brokerage houses like Merrill Lynch. It was a hands down, unquestioned winner that everyone, including myself, either owned or wanted to own.

McDonald’s the Store was a different story.

The McDonald’s that we went to for breakfast is typical for an urban outlet: It sits at the corner of 3rd & Pine in downtown Seattle, right between two high-volume bus stops. It is an area of transit, where no one lingers for any length of time, so there is no vested interest in keeping the area clean. The sidewalks are unusually dirty and feature a preponderance of blackened, spent chewing gum and trash. The entrance often smells of urine, and there are generally a lot of strange, tragic people loitering in the area. This particular McDonald’s usually had at least one armed policeman in the lobby. As is typical for stores such as these in locations such as these, this particular McDonald’s had poor customer service. The wait staff was a nonchalant, gum-chewing, young and uneducated crowd. They made minimum wage, and weren’t covered by health insurance. It was generally an unpleasant place to be.

One early morning, on a day that no one from the office (thankfully) was there, someone got shot in the lobby, apparently over a drug deal gone bad. And right around that time it dawned on me, that McDonald’s the Stock – touted so highly in the pages of Barron’s – and McDonald’s the Store, purveyor of death food – fatty and empty, were one in the same. McDonald’s the store raped its employees by demanding all of their working time without paying them a living wage, nor insuring their health and well being. McDonald’s the Stock was the darling of Wall Street.

In my naivety, I couldn’t make sense of it. The financial press had done such a good job of brainwashing me: “MCD=good,” it said. But my eyes did not lie, and they told me the exact opposite: McDonald’s was part of the problem. It only became clear over time. MCD is respected as a stock precisely for the reason that stocks should be respected: It makes money. As in the case of Enron, Arthur Andersen, Merrill Lynch, Xerox, Archer Daniels Midland and Lockheed Martin (all money making ventures, and all either under criminal investigation, soon to be, or already convicted)– if it makes money, buy it. Don’t get too close, and don’t ask too many questions. What I saw around the corner from my brokerage office, at McDonald’s the Store was the grass roots mechanism of profit generation, and I understood what Corporate America was about: The extraction of money, through the control of those arbitrarily less fortunate by those arbitrarily more fortunate.

This story is simply a reminder that mass media exerts a tremendous amount of influence over our thoughts, to the point that we can be blinded to the realities in our lives. Often times, we don’t even know that these blind spots exist. Sometimes we fail to see the world through our own eyes in favor of the reality which is beamed to us through our tiny window on the world that we call “tele-vision.” Corporate media often simply serves and protects corporate interests, which are not necessarily your interests or mine.

M.A. Nystrom
29 April 2002

Special thanks to Robert Prechter of Elliot Wave International, for the grand macro economic vision which inspires this website and this publication.

Special thanks to Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, for the grand micro economic vision which equally inspires this website and publication.

And finally, thanks to Michael Nystrom, editor of Chronicles, for executing the vision.